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Onboarding employees in a remote world


I’ll be the first to admit that onboarding new employees isn’t always a walk in the park. And I should know - onboarding is one of our many services here at WeLove9am. It’s a worthwhile exercise, that improves talent acquisition, promotes company culture and increases staff retention rates, among other benefits. But it does have its challenges.

Those challenges increased tenfold last year, when working from home became the new normal. Yes, remote working essentially opened up a whole new world of opportunities in terms of recruitment. So many of us realised that we didn’t need to rely solely on our local talent pool anymore. But how on earth are you supposed to onboard an employee remotely?

They can’t organically integrate into the company, physically meet their colleagues or experience the office space you’ve spent months or even years perfecting. They might not live in the same city. Or even the same country. They could be working in a completely different timezone. There’s a lot to consider.

But this is our new reality.

Remote working is the future for many of us. Some of us will adjust to a hybrid working week going forward, where working from an office will be optional. Either way, this means we’re going to have to really nail our remote onboarding experience.

So, where do you start? The answer is right here, with our top tips…

1. Start strong

    Whether you’re onboarding new staff in person, or you’re welcoming a new remote team, great pre-boarding remains a fundamental part of the onboarding process.

    Pre-boarding refers to whatever process your organisation has in place in the period between a candidate accepting an offer to their first day on the job. In this case, their first day signing in from home. It could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months, so your focus should be on communication, and drumming up some excitement as they prepare to join your company.

    You want your new starters to feel comfortable and as confident as possible as they step into their new role. Make sure they know some key details, like the software you use, how to sign in to various platforms, clear guidelines for their first day, etc. You should also use this time to reinforce your EVP, communicate your values, tell them more about your organisation and your industry, and let them know more about your unique culture.

    Pre-boarding is all about capturing and keeping a candidate’s attention, solidifying their commitment to your company and providing them with the best start in their role. This is even more important for remote employees. Communication is everything - you want each new hire to feel plugged into their new workplace from the word ‘go’.

    2. Develop a clear plan

      Fail to plan and you plan to fail. Do you really want to bring new employees on board, without a clear picture of how to get them settled in? No? I didn’t think so.

      You need to give your new team members a clear breakdown of exactly what their onboarding process is going to look like. Who are they going to be meeting with each day? Are they going to be involved in any projects in their first couple of weeks? Are there any specific bits of research you’d like them to do, or specific tasks to help them get to know your organisation better?

      Your onboarding plan could come in the form of a task checklist. It could be a calendar of events. However you choose to present your onboarding plan, it should be personalised to each new hire and their specific role, it should be easy to understand, and it should be designed to help them stay focused.

      3. Welcome new starters properly

        Physical barriers can make anyone feel isolated, but especially new hires. Working remotely removes opportunities to have a chat in the office kitchen, or sit and eat lunch together. Which is why a collaborative effort is so important. You really have to go out of your way to make new employees feel like they’re part of the team.

        Yes, a work buddy system works really well. But you want new hires to build connections with everyone. Encourage your existing team members to reach out and introduce themselves to start building relationships from the very first day. Even better, schedule a series of remote social activities for teams to spend some non-work-related time together, such as games nights, movie nights, virtual book clubs, quizzes.

        Just because you are physically separated doesn’t mean you can’t have a close-knit team with strong connections. You just have to put the effort in.

        4. Make time for the small things

          You know what they say - it’s the small things that make a big difference! This is so true when it comes to onboarding. Even the smallest gestures can make new hires feel welcome.

          Here at 9am we send our new starters a team playbook, running them through the ins and outs of what life is like with us. We make sure they have early access to our HR system. We give them an opportunity to introduce themselves to our existing team. We copy them in on team emails, so they get a taste of how we communicate. And that’s all before their first day.

          You could gift your new hires with some company swag, send them a little welcome gift, assign a ‘work buddy’ who they can turn to with any questions or concerns. You could even reach out to make sure they are comfortable in their environment, and offer to cover the cost of any additional equipment they might need in their home office, like a comfy chair, laptop riser or ergonomic keyboard.

          All of these small things will go towards improving their experience, and giving new hires the very best first impression.

          5. Set expectations

          Onboarding employees with a clear picture of their duties and what is expected of them is the basis for successful hires, whether remote or not.

          You should ensure that both you as an employer and your new employee have a clear understanding of your team’s objectives as well as individual goals. Make sure you have clearly communicated their responsibilities within the organisation, the systems they’ll be using, any resources they need to access, any important research they need to be doing, the training that you’ll be providing, etc.

          Failing to set clear expectations, probably define a new hire’s role or set both short-term and long-term goals will only result in confusion and frustration. On both sides of the table. You need to make sure you’re both aligned from the start, and that you’re reviewing their progress regularly.

          6. Ask for feedback

            Do not, I repeat, do not skip this step. Especially if you’re new to the world of remote onboarding. Because onboarding is a process and there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way.

            Asking each new remote employee for their feedback is the key refining the process. It’s the best way to understand how the process helped them, what worked well, what didn’t work so well, and create an action plan for fixing any issues.

            Ask specific and open questions, and encourage new hires to be as honest as possible. Not only does this show new hires that you’re paying attention to them and improving their experience, it sets the bar for an open and honest relationship throughout their employment.

            What are your top tips for onboarding in a remote working world? I’d love to hear them, so let’s connect. You can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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